Updated May 7, 2020

New: Our memorandum, COVID-19 and Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers: A Lethal Combination, v 1.2, discusses three specific problems that gas leaf blowers (GLBs) present during the COVID-19 crisis, and details the scientific evidence on the related health and environmental problems. The memo recommends a moratorium blower during the pandemic, and outlines a longer-term plan to help industry transition to cleaner, quieter, and healthier alternatives.

As many people shelter in place during the COVID-19 crisis, they have expressed concern about gas-powered leaf blowers (GLBs). Is it safe to exercise or take walks with children while workers are using these machines? The short answer is no. These machines expose the public—and workers—to unnecessary and preventable health risks since they are a major source of harmful pollutants (Banks, 2015), including ozone-forming chemicals, carbon monoxide, and fine particulate matter (referred to as PM2.5). And the adverse effects of PM2.5 and ozone are well known: cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease, and neurological and developmental/reproductive disorders (ALA, 2019; AHA, 2020; IARC, 2013).

Moreover, according to a recent Harvard study, long-term exposure to the type of pollution that GLBs produce may significantly raise the risk of death from COVID-19 (Wu, as of 4/24/20). These researchers found that a one microgram increase in concentration of fine particulates was associated with an 8% increase in risk of COVID-19 related death. Even short-term elevations in particulate matter, both fine and coarse, have been linked to acute respiratory infections, asthma, COPD, heart attacks, heart failure, and mortality (Home, 2018; Liu, 2019).

The magnitude of the problem cannot be overstated. It is estimated that, in one hour, a single commercial GLB produces 34 million micrograms of particulate matter, much of which remains in the air for long periods (Quiet Communities, 2020; US EPA). And keep in mind that GLBs are rarely used one at a time as recommended by industry. Rather, it is common to see 2- or 3-man crews, even on small properties. And, unlike PM2.5 from power plants, traffic, and other industrial sources, PM2.5 from leaf blowers and other handheld tools is localized, highly concentrated, and produced in close proximity to airways. (Indeed, the possibility of COVID-19 spread by PM (fine and coarse) has been raised in recent studies (Setti, 2020; Lu, 2020).

Moreover, gas-powered tools, most powered by inefficient two-stroke engines, account for approximately 90% of all PM2.5 from gas lawn and garden equipment (approximately 16,000 tons nationwide in 2018, Banks, 2015). In California, it is estimated that “leaf blowers and other small gas engines will create more ozone pollution than all of the passenger cars in the state” (KQED News, 2017).

For those reasons, towns like Sleepy Hollow, NY  and Huntington, NY have already imposed new restrictions. Expressing his concern for workers and residents, Sleepy Hollow Mayor Ken Wray said, “We breathe those particulates; they are getting into and irritating our lungs. Particulates hang in the air for hours after a leaf blower has been shut off.” Residents are being asked to move to less toxic alternatives, such as rakes, brooms, and electric blowers.

GLB pollution is serious. People are being exposed to high levels of pollutants known to be harmful to health and raising their risk of death from COVID-19. Our policy makers need to act now.

We need clean air to survive in this pandemic.

Special thanks to Valerie Seiling Jacobs for her assistance with editing.

7 Comments. Leave new

  • I appreciate the paper on the increased COVID-19 risks associated with GLBs. Given that most landscape companies are small businesses that are under capitalized, is there information on programs, or incentives to help them acquire battery powered equipment?

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  • AGREED!

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  • Yes!!! This the time to get these tools banned forever.

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  • I just sent a personal letter to the mayor of Portland Oregon asking that GPLBs are banned now and forever. We have huge amounts of leaves in the fall but why are there seemingly MORE GP leaf blowers out right now, in April, with Covid? ?
    There are alternatives and it might even create a few more jobs. Please write from your heart, for your heart and lungs: they need protection right now.

    Reply
  • Davide Boiardi
    May 22, 2020 1:35 pm

    Thank you so much for this valuable information. I live on an estate on the suburbs of Madrid, Spain, where the leaf blower seems to be multiplying like bacteria. Many residents – that weren’t home during office hours, especially during lock-down, have noticed how noisy it is during the day in our area. Moreover, I’m not sure whether my breathing difficulty from time to time is thanks to leaf blowers. There are days when someone is powering a leaf blower in my area for ten hours or so. On these days, I stay indoors and keep the windows closed. It’s ridiculous that my rights to live a tranquil life is written in the Spanish constitution but clearly not observed. Any resources you have, even in Spanish, would be greatly appreciated. I have just began to mount a campaign on my estate to ban the leaf blower for good.

    Reply
  • Robert Nimkoff
    June 17, 2020 7:59 pm

    How can we effectively approach our town regarding the regulation of GLB use?

    Reply
  • 6 properties within 200 feet use gas trimmers and blowers every week

    Reply

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